Just over a year ago, there were about 38,000 people certified in the safety training program used by the National Auto Auction Association.
As of August, there were around 88,000 people certified in the Safe T. Sam program, which was created by KAR Global and ADESA and used by NAAA and throughout the auction industry.
“Which tells me that people are still looking at safety and taking it very seriously in the auctions,” NAAA chief executive officer Frank Hackett said in a phone interview.
Pierre Pons, who is president of the TPC Management Co. firm that provides consulting to auto auctions, said in a June phone interview he has seen a “heightened awareness” around safety, including a bigger focus at industry conferences and through events focused on safety in the auction lanes.
“The way that auto auctions look at their processes and tie in safety is evolving and changing daily and at a more rapid pace than what I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Pons, who will wrap up his 12 years as chief executive of the ServNet Auction Group at the end of the year, while maintaining his leadership role with TPC.
That progress, Pons said, is evident in something as simple as folks wearing brightly colored vests in the auction arena to more involved processes like installing bollards in the lanes and so-called “postcard sales,” where vehicles remain stationary and are shown on a screen at the auction, instead.
These types of safety-focused changes and proactive steps came up in conversations with leaders from ADESA, Manheim and the independent auctions, as the emphasis on safety is industry-wide.
Learning from ‘near-misses’
One proactive measure that Manheim, for example, has taken is with its Actively Care Today initiative, a $13 million investment over three years to promote the safety of clients and employees who come to the auto auction.
Through that initiative, Manheim launched a program to identify “near misses” at auction and put in place preventative measures to avoid those situations in the future.
“We’ve had over 2,000 near-misses reported over a three-and-a-half month period, and it really gives a voice to our subject matter experts or our employees on the floor who really know what’s going on a day-to-day basis,” said John White, who is the environmental, health and safety director for field operations at Manheim.
“And we put corrective actions around these leading indicators … it’s been a complete game-changer with not only corrective action to mitigate risk, but also our culture and morale of our employees,” said White, who spoke with Auto Remarketing by phone in August.
In essence, that near-miss program is a proactive one designed to look at what happened, what could have happened and how to fix or prevent it.
“And we’ve actually built a dashboard around what our highest potential next injuries, and we have our auction leadership teams actually breaking down department leading indicators, and we’re preventing future injuries from occurring,” White said. “It’s something as simple as changing lane patterns or eliminating blind spots around corners.”
White said that clients are even “getting involved in our near-miss reporting. And they’ve openly accepted that this is a great proactive program, and we’re taking some great steps to mitigate our risks.”
And he would know about workplace safety. White, whose background includes time in the manufacturing and pharmaceuticals industries, used to be a compliance agent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And he was recruited to join Manheim from outside the industry.
Regularly scheduled, enterprise-wide safety training
Over at KAR, Srisu Subrahmanyam — who is the chief operating officer of the company’s ADESA auto auction business unit — said every KAR employee has to go through a safety training module each month, where it’s a different topic each time.
“And every month, a module is assigned to every single employee at KAR,” Subrahmanyam said. “And every single employee, no matter where you sit, has to take that.”
That would include everyone from the chief executive officer to the drivers on sale day.
The company implemented technology last year that can track all of the employees’ progress in the Safe T. Sam program, he said.
“People have asked, ‘I’m in an office environment, is it that critical that I need to know the auction lane safety?’” Subrahmanyam said.
The answer, as you might expect, is “yes.”
“We encourage all our office employees to go to the auction, so they are in that environment,” he said. “They need to be aware of the hazards, the dangers in that workplace.”
Those hazards could include everything from bloodborne pathogens to tool mishaps and weather-related hazards like ice or heat.
But it would also include potential areas of risk in office environment, like ergonomic injuries.
Preparation for active shooter scenarios
NAAA held a Safety Summit earlier this year, its largest to date with 75 attendees, Hackett said, and came away with one particular area of safety concern to examine.
“What we took away from that was there were concerns for training around active shooters in the auction lanes,” Hackett said. “So, we’ve started looking at doing some training, even perhaps early as late spring of 2020, where we’re going to do probably another safety summit around active shooters, how to respond in the auction.
“Our job is really to kind of train the trainers and train the general managers who might be the trainers that can then take that information back to their auctions and put some type of strategy in place, in dealing with any type of potential incident that might occur in the auction,” Hackett said.
Digital lanes promote safety
This spring, Manheim Tucson became Manheim’s first auction to incorporate a 100% digital format, utilizing a four-lane setup where cars are parked in designated spots and sold to buyers both physically present at the facility and online. An auctioneer has them up for sale digitally through oversized monitors that include enhanced images, barcode price scanning and condition report info.
Buyers and sellers can participate in person at the auction or online through Manheim Simulcast. While Manheim Tucson is 100% digital, the company has over 100 digital-only lanes throughout its other physical auction facilities.
“We’re going to continue on this journey,” Manheim president Grace Huang said, adding that not moving the cars can reduce the chance for an accident at the auction.
“It’s all about this culture of safety that we’re trying to set, not just for our employees, but for all our visitors and all of our clients that come to our location every day,” Huang said of the investment in digital. “So, this is a really important initiative, and one that we’ll continue to talk about as an industry as we continue to invest in digital tools to make buying online easier and easier for our buyers.”
Meanwhile, ADESA announced this past winter, as reported by Auto Remarketing correspondent Arlena Sawyers, that it had launched what it calls VirtuaLane at 20 of its North American auctions, where certain lanes at the auctions are digital only.
These efforts were designed to minimize the chances of accidents.
A VirtuaLane sale has all the trappings of typical physical auction lanes: an auctioneer, ring men and dealers bidding in-lane and online via what is now known as ADESA Simulcast. No vehicles are driven across the block. Instead, VirtuaLane vehicles appear in photos, along with their condition reports, on big-screen monitors in an auction lane.
The program was pioneered with ADESA and American Honda Finance Corp., and others in the industry have expressed interest, Subrahmanyam said.
“They saw the value of not running the cars through the lanes, but (doing) everything else that’s necessary for a live auction,” Subrahmanyam said of AHFC. “So, the cars are prepped, placed in spots. The lanes are essentially prepped as if they are running, but we have a much more attractive technology-laden solution in VirtuaLane. Which gives you everything about the car, the condition report, the pictures, everything you need to make a decision on from a buyer’s standpoint.”
Lynn Weaver, who is the executive director of the Independent Auction Group, said the independent auctions are experimenting with the digital lane concept, as well.
“I think it’s going to be a pattern that needs to be tested, and the industry will step back and see how it works. It’s certainly interesting to look at,” Weaver said in a June phone interview. “Most of our auctions, the independents, do have digital lanes within the auction, where they may be running cars that are either outside the gate on a digital environment or in some cases for some clients, they may be running all the Toyotas in a digital environment without bringing them across the block. Just about everybody’s experimenting in one way or the other.”
As for 100% digital sales at physical auctions, Weaver sees potential, but it could take time before that makes a huge impact.
But he harkens back to the “postcard sale” mentioned earlier, which comes in handy in places like the Northeast during the winters. Weaver owned Harrisburg Auto Auction in Pennsylvania, which he sold to America’s Auto Auction in December 2014 and then remained general manager until he retired from daily operations in 2018.
“Once the technology with the condition reports and the digital sales and the screens in the lanes became prominent, we were able to be prepared if we had a blizzard to simply run the entire sale on a postcard environment,” Weaver said.
“So, every car that was already there was up and operational and we would just show them on the screen. As long as we could get our dealers in there and simulcast it, we were able to hold a sale,” he said. “You might not have as big a sale, but you still have the opportunity to have a sale.”
And perhaps a safer one at that, given the weather.
Auto Remarketing correspondent Arlena Sawyers contributed to this report.